As Europe struggles with energy costs, this man is running out of options

Fabrizio Cardinali, 72, does not like the bright city lights. He actually has no use for electricity and has lived off the grid for more than half a century.

That makes him one of the few in Europe who is not worried about rising energy costs this winter.

Cardinali, whose long white beard makes him look like Karl Marx, the poet Walt Whitman or a slimmed-down Santa Claus, lives in a stone farmhouse in the hills of the Verdicchio wine country near Ancona, on Italy’s eastern Adriatic coast.

By choice, he has no electricity, no gas and no indoor plumbing.

Fabrizio lights the wood stove at his own home


Carrying an oil container from his house


Harvest olives from the trees


“I wasn’t interested in being part of the world as it was. So I left everything – family, university, friends, the sports team, and went in a completely different direction,” he said, sitting in the kitchen and wearing patched corduroy trousers.

“Giving something up is not masochistic. You give up something to get something else that is more important, he said.

In the past, he has lived completely alone.

Fabrizio and his current housemates, Agnese and Andrea, have lunch together


Working in the vegetable garden outside his house


Right now he has two housemates, a rooster, three hens and a cat in a community he calls “The Tribe of Harmonious Walnuts”.

Visitors looking for Cardinali and his friends are told by locals in the nearest town to take the narrow dirt path that starts next to an oak tree flying a multicolored peace flag.

Cardinali and his housemates, who gave their names only as Agnese and Andrea, rely on a wood stove for cooking and warmth, and are lit by lamps filled with used cooking oil donated by neighbors.

Fabrizio sits with his cat while reading a book


On the way out to the olive harvest


“I feel privileged to have the freedom to choose my freedom,” said Agnese, 35, who moved in two years ago. Andrea, 46, spends the week there but goes home to Macerata, about 51 miles away, every weekend to look after her mother.

The “harmonic walnuts” grow fruit and vegetables, olives to produce olive oil, and keep bees for honey. A local cooperative sells them sacks of pulses, cereals and wheat, which they grind to make their own bread.

Whenever possible, they exchange any surplus production for whatever they need.

Although some people have called him “The Hermit of Cupramontana,” Cardinali says he is not one.

Andrea picks the olives that fell from the trees


Fabrizio checks the chicken coop


The 72-year-old climbs a tree to harvest olives


Instead, he believes that life is best lived in small communities.

His first advice to anyone tempted to follow his example is: “Throw away your so-called smartphone.”

Cardinali occasionally travels short distances to visit friends, take olives to a stone press to make oil, and walk or hitchhike to the nearest town to have a coffee with the locals or visit the doctor.

“I’ve lived this way for about 51 years and I’ve never regretted it. Of course there have been difficulties, but they never made me think that I made the wrong choice or threw everything away, he said. “Absolutely not.”

Photography by Yara Nardi


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